To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service,shares stories from five women who worked across five different decades of the NHS
Dr Karen Joash has been working in London as an obstetrician and gynaecologist since 2002. In her current NHS role she is the lead for postnatal care, and is also the lead for maternity guidelines at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Here, she remembers an NHS without emails, and explains the importance of baby boxes – an innovative new scheme she implemented in her unit, which has since been picked up by hospitals across the country.
“Both my parents worked in a hospital, so I was pretty much brought up in the NHS. My dad used to run a mental health secure unit and my mum was a nurse. I can remember being a little girl in the Seventies, skipping along these really long Victorian corridors to go and see my dad, who looked so important in his white coat taking care of all these people. The hospital beds lined the corridors and they were all so neat and pristine. That was my first impression of the NHS – that it was a place where people were taken care of, and taken care of really well. I wanted to be a part of it.
In the Noughties I was working as a house officer in the Chelsea Westminster trust. It was so different then – there used to be a phone in the restaurant across the road from us that the doctors would get called on when they were on call. Now hospitals are so busy that we can’t even walk out of the door.
There was a lot more time for interaction between teams, and you could learn from the people you really admired, which was so much better for morale. Now, we talk about human factors – possible safety issues in the NHS because some members of the same team don’t even know each other.
The technology has changed so much, too. When I started my first job, there wasn’t even email; now we have email bombardment! Our trust is trying to go paperless, so all our notes are logged on computers, meaning we can review everything there.
There has also been a real improvement on the emphasis on safety and on giving patients a voice. Now, patients are at the centre of what we do, rather than us having that very hierarchical doctor-patient relationship. I had an operation on the NHS and when I woke up I was told I’d had a blood transfusion. I asked why, and the response was, “well, you just did”. That would virtually never happen now; we’re much more open on explaining things, and letting patients voice any concerns they might have.
One of my most memorable moments was introducing the baby box scheme to my unit. No one really understands why, but the boxes help reduce mortality rates by encouraging safer sleep, and it improves education for the parents. It was amazing seeing the faces of the women who were able to take up the scheme. We deliver around 6,000 babies a year, and we had a 20-30% uptake, so loads of women were involved. Now the scheme has been taken up by other hospitals around the country. If that’s the one thing I can leave this world with, then I’m very happy with that.”